Of all the buildings in Alden, the central exchange house was not one that Brayand would consider inviting. Ancient stone walls spoke of authority, with centuries of commerce embedded in worn stone. Windows adorned with silver and gold, their glass perfect in every way, reflected sunlight down onto the streets below. Within, hushed whispers were overshadowed by the constant clink of gold and silver.
As Brayand stood in the main lobby, no one seemed to pay him any mind. This was not unexpected, but it was unfortunate. The party from Keto would be arriving in less than an hour at the city gates. Preparations had mostly concluded, but ceremony was essential to maintaining the peace between the two former enemies. Brayand could not be late, but this meeting with Lord Laisonen had been rescheduled multiple times. There could be no more delays.
A clerk, at last noticing the governor’s presence, stood to greet him. “Lord Governor,” he said, extending his hand, “what brings you here today?” He smiled broadly, forced beyond believable. A pair of glasses sat on his long nose, gleaming gently in the sunlight.
“I’m here for Lord Laisonen,” Brayand said, shaking the man’s hand. “I have a meeting with him.”
“Ah, yes,” the clerk said, his smile never wavering. “He mentioned something of it to me. Let me check my logs.” He moved back to his desk, almost floating over the carpeting that adorned the floors – a deep maroon, emblazoned with the crest of House Laisonen in the center, a lion’s face crowned by a golden ring. As the man opened the tome on his desk, he noticed that nobody seemed to step through the center of the carpet.
“Here we are!” the man cried, drawing stern glances from the others in the chamber. “Lord Laisonen informed me of this meeting two days ago. He said that you would come at two o’clock to discuss the state of the markets and the coming celebrations.”
Brayand nodded. “That’s correct,” he said.
The man frowned, the glasses on his face sliding gently down his nose. His eyes ran over the words before him again and again. “Oh dear, this isn’t right…” he muttered to himself, adjusting them.
Brayand walked over to the desk. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
The clerk jabbed at the book. “I was told that you were to have a meeting with Lord Laisonen today at 2 o’clock,” he repeated.
“We’ve established that,” Brayand said.
The clerk waved him off, turning a bright red as he did, “But Lord Laisonen isn’t here!” he exclaimed, drawing remarks from the room at his words. Whispering, he added, “He hasn’t been here all day!”
Frowning, Brayand asked, “Where has he been, then?”
The clerk threw up his hands into the air, his eyes wide. “I’m not sure!” His mouth hung slack in horror, staring just over the governor’s left shoulder.
Brayand scanned the room again, as the clerk went back through his book, muttering to himself. “Perhaps… no, but maybe he’s…” Those who had been present had moved out of the main lobby, doors to side chambers closing softly behind them. Only a few bankers sat at their desks, coins spread out on their desks, their feather quills making quick motions over parchment as they continued their work.
“The theater!” the clerk chirped. Brayand was certain that, had anyone been left in the room, the remark would have drawn more calls for silence. Brayand returned his attention to the man, who was pointing joyously at his records. “Lord Laisonen was asked to appear at the theater all day to introduce the newly arrived troupe from Ilandri.”
Brayand nodded. Pleasure before business. “Thank you,” he said, turning to exit the building.
“Oh, you’re most welcome, Lord Governor!” the man cried after him. “I’ll be sure to let Lord Laisonen know of your visit.”
As he turned the corner down the busy avenue, Brayand could only imagine how that conversation would play out. He hoped for the man’s sake that Lord Laisonen was in a more forgiving mood.
The main streets of Alden had originally been built to support the movements of soldiers from the castle to the walls, and the barracks between them. Makeshift paths had been built and rebuilt throughout the centuries, creating broader and longer avenues to allow for greater commerce. However, even for this early hour, the main avenues were already packed. Wagons, pulled by all manner of creatures, moved up and down the roads, with pedestrians forced to the sides to avoid being trampled. Some of these headed for the central markets, while others moved outward, towards the gates.
Those on foot flowed through the maze of buildings and wagons, making their way to myriad destinations. Despite his rank, Brayand did his best to meld in with them, moving as the mass of people allowed. After half an hour of walking and avoiding being walked on, the Alden Theater appeared before him.
The building was nothing special, compared to some of the others in the city. It stood in the center of the avenue, apart from the rest of the buildings. Constructed in a circular design with, the structure demanded attention from all in sight. The room was open to the sky, protected by arcane magic from the elements. Sounds from within echoed out into the throngs, announcing the upcoming spectacle. “Citizens of Alden! Please welcome Lord Vincent Laisonen!”
A roar of applause rang from the crowds within as Brayand reached the entrance. The sound became muffled as the doorman allowed him entrance. The front lobby was empty, except for those selling food and water for the captive audience members. The governor nodded politely at them, then quickly entered the arena.
Based on the attendance, this was clearly the place to be for those that could afford it. Every seat was taken, without exception; rows upon rows of men, women, and children sat eagerly, their eyes fixed upon the stage. Brayand saw Lord Laisonen, wearing his finest outfit of red and gold, standing in the center of the stage. His robe flowed freely down his back, resting gently above the floor. Beneath the robes, he wore a simple white shirt. Behind the man, the stage was set, depicting a rustic village of some sort.
“Once again,” the lord continued, “I thank you for your continued patronage.” His voice boomed across the audience, enhanced by enchantments built into the structure of the theater. “The Theater of Alden is at the heart of our city’s culture. But now, let us welcome our guests, the greatest actors of Ilandri!” He raised his hands into the sky, drawing the same response from the crowd. Smiling, he gestured towards the stage, stepping off to the side as the actors piled on. The light, also controlled by enchantment, began to dim, and within moments the play had begun.
Brayand would have enjoyed watching the show, but now was not the time. He deftly made his way through the audience, crossing through the theater’s seating until he reached the box where Lord Laisonen sat. He tapped the man gently on the shoulder. Startled, Laisonen jumped, turning in his seat to see who was there. His face paled as he took in the governor’s appearance.
“A word, my lord.”
“Oh, lord governor. Of course,” he said, gesturing to the chair next to him.
Brayand took the seat, while Laisonen’s face shifted from concern into a bland nothing that was only fit for politics. His golden-brown hair sat unkept upon his brow, sweat beading on his forehead. His eyes remained fixed on the stage.
“Good speech,” Brayand commented, gesturing to the stage. “Although I’m not sure why it was necessary.”
“The proprietor felt that it would make a good impression ahead of the celebrations,” Laisonen explained, his voice hushed. “Also, the Ilandrian director specifically requested my presence as part of the arrangement to bring them here.”
“I see,” Brayand said, smiling faintly. On stage, a scene was playing out between a woman in old, worn clothing and a man dressed as a knight. “Are they any good?”
Laisonen nodded. “The best new talent from Kalleth in years.” He turned to face Brayand. “You didn’t find me to talk about the show.”
Brayand nodded. “We had a meeting scheduled,” he explained.
Laisonen slowly drew a breath, turning back to the stage. “Ah, yes. I apologize, Lord Hathen. It must have slipped my mind.” On stage, another knight appeared, dressed in black armor. The crowd gasped as he drew his sword, challenging the first knight to a duel. The woman tried to step between them, pleading for calm, but Brayand could tell it would do no good.
“I have been informed that there was an incident in the marketplace between your knights and a merchant from Mesoshire. He claims that they barred him from the marketplace, and damaged his wares.”
Laisonen sat back in his chair, eyebrows raised. “Oh?” he asked, the word breathed more than spoken. The knights began to clash, the steel of their swords sparking, the sound of metal crashing into metal echoing through the chamber.
Brayand nodded. Raising his voice over the sound, he continued, “It gets worse. Witnesses say that the man was threatened at swordpoint, and told never to return. Were it not for the crowd starting to form, he may very well have been killed.”
“Do you know the merchant’s name, by chance?” Laisonen asked, closing his eyes and rubbing his face.
“I believe it was Stoval.”
The lord slapped his thighs sharply. “Stoval,” he muttered, then barked a laugh. A thin smile flickered across his face. “I know who he is. That man is a con artist, nothing more.” He ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it further.
“Con artist or not,” Brayand began, “your knights cannot threaten someone without a cause. They are supposed to be examples of the best of us. It is not their place to govern the affairs of the marketplace.”
Laisonen turned back to face Brayand, his eyes wide in frustration. “Am I not the proprietor of the marketplace?” The violence onstage stopped, forcing the lord to lower his voice. “Was it not my family that established the first trading enterprise between Alden and Baralen? Or brought the first caravans from Tha’Haral into our city?”
“I meant no offense,” Brayand reassured, “but this does not change the fact that your knights have become a hindrance to commerce. Last week, I watched as they pushed through the crowds with complete disregard, on horseback no less.”
Laisonen folded his arms, his face darkening. “Lord Hathen,” he began, “I know well enough how to govern what is my own.”
“Then you know to leave such matters to the city guard.”
“Of course,” the lord barked, his gaze fixed on the stage as the black knight exited, leaving the wounded silver knight in the arms of the poor woman.
“Good.” Brayand stood. “Then I look forward to hearing that Stoval has been allowed back into the marketplace, and is compensated for any harm that came to him or his wares.”
Laisonen sighed audibly. “I will see to it myself,” he said, his chin raised slightly. He adjusted his jacket, unease radiating from the man. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, you are interrupting the show. I do believe those present would like to watch the show in peace, myself included.”
Brayand nodded. “Of course,” he said. As he made his way back through the crowd, he looked back to the nobleman’s seats. A knight had approached, and appeared to be receiving instructions. The governor smiled. One task down for the day, one more to go.